I always envisioned the final year of my Master's degree as a period of stress and lack of free time, but like many naïve people in early spring of 2020, I was unaware of the upheaval that was to come upon our lives.
I finished the final 5 weeks of the last academic year online and while it was difficult, we accepted it as we were “all in this together”. Now I find myself waking up minutes before my nine o'clock lecture which I won’t really attend physically or mentally. I find myself checking out as soon as I have logged in.
Apart from the lack of connection, if you pardon the pun, between student and Lecturer I am also acutely aware of being a fresh Graduate with only a year of work experience in my field under my belt. My parents think it’s good to remind me that this is their third recession in their lifetime and that if they got through it so will I. I gently remind them it is already my second and I’m not even twenty-three. I also remind them there is a low prospect of me ever affording a home, no possibility of affording rent on my own, and the planet is on fire. But I guess it could be worse.
Of course, I must count myself lucky. Being in a practical degree like Architecture, the University has given us three days of on-campus studio access a week, albeit on a rotating basis and with reduced numbers leaving the year broken in two groups, never to see 50% of my peers. Most of said peers have not moved to Dublin and are doing everything remotely. Even a great majority of those in Dublin have decided to surrender their studio space, so often I find myself and maybe one or two others sitting in a studio with a pre-COVID capacity of fifty students.
The work itself feels lonely and more stressful than before. Each week I am required to submit a digital copy of my work, but knowing it’s to be displayed to a Zoom group of several tutors and many of my peers puts me under pressure to finish everything to final presentation style standard. Remote learning, in my opinion, has driven up the required standard of work with less than half of the resources.
Another factor I find creeping in is one facing most people working remotely, there is no separation of work and home anymore, nowhere is safe from my studies. My kitchen is where I read for my Major Research essay, I make models for Design Studio at the dining room table, I conduct my online classes from my bedroom. You may point out that I have three studio days a week and surely that allows a break between home and study. Wrong. Since all of these spaces at home are used on the off-days for study, I come home, and they stink of education and pressure to continue working; “just another ten minutes on that essay” or “If you get that done tonight you can do this tomorrow”. You may point out this is self-inflicted, that I could easily just stop working. You may point out that I should put my mental health first.
You need to understand, Covid or no Covid, I will be graduating next September into a global recession on the same calibre of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The best thing I can do is to get the best grade I can. If I want to get a job, I need to separate myself as best I can from the masses, and the higher the grade the better. I am also acutely aware this recession will not be like previous Irish ones. This is global. I cannot simply emigrate to pastures new. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are sealed up and facing their own economic issues, and the USA, well I won’t even delve into that.
Of course, the one thing that affects me most of all is the social side. Like I said before most people don’t avail of the on-campus facilities and we continue to communicate through the internet. They say we are better connected online more than ever before, but I have never felt so socially disconnected. It isn’t all bad news though. I find myself not thinking twice about talking to people when they do appear, nor do I hesitate to message the school friend I haven’t heard from in a few years.
I have truly learned the value of people, whether it’s a night out, a chat over a coffee or even a drunken hug in the smoking area at 1 am. I know that even if I am jobless at the end of my educational career, I’ll still have people who I will see in person once again and not just behind a screen.